Movie Review: People Like Us
Last night I saw an advanced screening of the new Dreamworks drama/comedy, People Like Us, starring Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks, Michelle Pfeiffer and Michael Hall D’Daddario. Plot summary goes that Sam (Pine) finds his estranged father has died and reluctantly returns home to Los Angeles hoping to inherit some money but instead finds out he has a 30 year old sister and young nephew. A result of his father’s extra-marital affair. As this relationship develops, Sam is forced to examine everything he believed to be true about his family and reevaluate his own life choices.
First off, I liked this movie a lot. It’s not the best drama in the world, but it’s a pretty darn good one. Dreamworks is selling it as a “dramedy” but there’s very little “medy”to it. It’s mostly drama and pretty heavy at that. The young Josh (D’Daddario) lends a few laughs to the picture, here and there, but overall it’s a serious film about family and relationships. Bring tissues.
Their are many strong points to this film – the acting is excellent and so it the direction. I was especially impressed with, well all of the main characters I mentioned in the first sentence up there, but Michelle Pfeiffer is great as the grieving widow and distant mother. Nice to see her playing her age and doing it well – wrinkles and all! The young boy in the film, Michael Hall D’Daddrio, is fantastic. I’m always amazed by superb child actors and he really does a great job delivering a wide range of subtle emotion over the span of a very large and demanding role for a kid his age. Pine and Banks were also super watchable and each of them delivered layered characters that were believable and compelling. The only kind of wasted role was Sam’s girlfriend, Hannah, played by Olivia Wilde. She did a fine job with a boring role that was mostly about exposition. And of course, the wonderful Philip Baker Hall as the attorney and long time friend of the deceased father, was as natural and seamless as ever. One of my favorites!
I found it interesting that the movie is loosely based on the real life events of writer/director, Alex Kurtzman who knew his father had had a family before his but never knew them. He then met his half-sister for the first time, completely by chance, at a party on the very same day he was thinking about writing a script about a guy meeting a long lost sister. Wacky!
The film has well developed characters and natural dialogue and only loses a little of that tightness at the end, when things feel a little more contrived at times, but not to the point where it ruins the rest. Not even close. My main complaint was the score. Composer A.R. Rahman is a two time Academy Award winning composer, but his work just didn’t jive with me on this one. Right from the beginning of the movie, the scoring felt a little too movie of the week-ish to me and was often overly sentimental and somewhat insipid. It was overly pronounced and I feel a good musical score should support, not manipulate above and beyond the actors’ performances. But maybe you love sap and you’ll love the score. Me, not so much.
However, the use of other music throughout the film was very good (the deceased father was an old school rock music producer) and songs by Bob Dylan, The Clash, Foghat, Loose Fur, James Gang, Charles Mingus and more are strategically placed and appreciated.
I wouldn’t categorize this as a total “chick flick” but it’s a drama and it’s not a good date movie. Go with someone you don’t mind crying in front of and maybe even see it with your brother or sister and have a feel good family date. From a professional point of view, it’s refreshing to see actors acting, writers writing and directors directing in something original again. Remember? That’s what movies used to be. For this reason alone, it is worth seeing.
People Like Us opens nationwide June 29, 2012.
Kung Fu Panda 2 - The Good, The Bad & The Toys
|A VERY excited Aubrey!|
- The Mattel toys also seemed to be a hit and we were lucky enough to take a couple of them home with us in a gift bag. Aubrey received the figurines above and ended up playing with them for well over an hour later that night. However, I did hear her yelling her own made up line of, “DON’T YOU EVER KILL MEEEEEE!!” while pulverizing the bad wolf guy with the Panda. Which leads me to the “You Judge For Yourself” portion of my review…
Here are my not so positive opinions and then we’ll wrap this up in a nice little bow at the end:
- The second half of film was fairly dark and violent and from what I heard from some of the parents who had seen the first one, it was darker than the first one. But I’ve seen this pattern in many kids’ movies, including the uber popular Toy Story franchise. Toy Story 3 kind of made me feel like I was watching the family version of Saw at one point. Anyway, I digress. My daughter is almost 4 years old and generally doesn’t have too much trouble sitting through an animated feature. The last section of KFP2 is quite violent, however, and while it is action packed, it did seem to me to just go on and on and on. Just when I thought, “OK, NOW the big fight scene is over,” it would gear back up again.
I guess my heads up number one for parents of little ones is that this IS a rated PG movie. If your younger child has a tough time with darkness and bad guys for a prolonged period of time, maybe not for you. And maybe my kid was a little more sensitive to it because (sorry) she’s a girl and she’s never pretended to shoot anything in her life. I dunno.
- Here’s heads up number two and this is something that I would have liked to talk about in a Q&A perhaps, but we weren’t given the opportunity, nor would our kids have sat through it… but (MINI SPOILER ALERT!!!) in the movie, we find out that Po’s panda parents abandoned him to save his life when their village was pillaged by Lord Shen and his bad guys. There is a heart wrenching scene where the mama bear is shown hiding Baby Po and then running for her life. And I’ll let you guess as to whether she makes it or not (the mom ALWAYS gets the axe or the lock up in animation – Bambi, Nemo, Dumbo…). While they don’t show the attack on her, it is implied and the scene actually made my daughter cry and get pretty upset. Oh and I was sobbing too and so was every other mother in the house. It’s sad! But I was surprised at how emotional it made my daughter. She’s older now and she’s starting to “get it” which is cool and scary all at once. All afternoon I had to answer the questions, “Why did the mommy bear leave her baby,” “Why was the baby panda crying?” and “What happened to his mommy?” Ugh. Wahhh!
The other part of this portion of the story line (MORE SPOLIER) is that we learn that the noodle house owning goose, Mr Ping (James Hong – YAY James Hong!) adopts baby Po and raises him as his own. As a Korean born adoptee raised by geese… I mean caucasian people… this actually got me emotional on different levels and with so many Americans parenting transnational and transracial children these days, I hope they, the parents, are prepared for the barrage of emotions and questions that will come after the movie. I explained to my daughter that I was adopted by my mommy and daddy just like Po was and then she wanted to know why my mommy couldn’t keep me (I don’t know). Did she abandon me (yes). Was I going to ever leave her – NO! So, even though we had a great time, it turned into a bigger day of emotions and issues that I was expecting. Anyone immediately touched by adoption (birth parent, adoptive parent or adoptee) is going to have some feelings about this movie. I’m just warning my people!
- And my final and most serious issue with the film is the whitewashing of the cast. This is an American made film set in China. Yes, it’s a cartoon, but it is clearly set in China (not a Chinatown in the USA) and it draws it’s story, character names, movement and imagery from the rich and real history of China and Chinese kung fu. So why weren’t more of the actors of CHINESE descent? Or at least Asian American? I, as an Asian American actress, get a little upset about this kind of stuff and I don’t think I’m being too ridiculous. While I never felt the film was mocking Asian or Chinese culture in a way that was racist or inappropriate, throughout the entire film I kept hearing recognizable voices of non-Asian actors and the handful of actors who were of Chinese descent were in lesser billed roles. The director of KFP2 is Jennifer Yuh and so… that’s cool. But the stars of the film are all white. I get it that picture deals are made and contracts are signed and Dreamworks has to do it’s job to sell this movie, but there’s no reason Lucy Liu shouldn’t have had Angelina Jolie’s top billed role and no reason James Hong or Jackie Chan shouldn’t have had Gary Oldman’s leading role of Lord Shen. Although, James Hong steals the show in his role as Mr Ping. He is a true pioneer and a sweetheart to boot.
But I digress… Of the 13 top billed names on the cast, only four are of Asian descent . So shame on someone. And I’m going to go ahead and say it: It’s because the roles are Asian. There’s even a black guy in the main 13 characters of this movie. I’ve already discussed this issue with some friends and some people have thrown the “But it’s just an animation and you don’t see the actors who are playing animals so why does it matter” argument at me. But it does matter. Asians are now and have been the most underrepresented minority on tv and film for eons and it’s because we are simply not given the due respect that other human beings are given in this industry. We are not seen as Americans and we are not respected as people with spines. Therefore, it is socially acceptable to cast The Last Airbender (yikes) and Akira and Kung Fu Panda with white and even black actors. If you think I’m being a tad overly sensitive, ask yourself this question: In an animated film where a character was a white person or a black person would they hire an Asian actor to play that voice? Kind of doubt it, but the reverse is always fine when it’s a role of color, even when it’s not animated! We’ll get there eventually, but it’s a slooooow row to hoe. Yes, I just said ho and set myself up for some horrible Asian actress jokes. Go ahead. Make them. Every Asian actress has played one or been asked to play one and we all own our own lab coats for auditions. (My big prostitute role was when I was 9 months pregnant too! It was a dark, dark comedy.)
|Aubrey going SKA2OOSH!|
If you would like to learn more about Kung Fu Panda 2, please visit these official sites:
Official Movie Site: http://www.kungfupanda.com